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How To Talk To Your Teens About Drinking

Expert Advice: How To Talk To Your Teens About Drinking

 

I participated in an Ambassador Program on behalf of Influence Central for Anheuser-Busch’s Family Talk About Drinking Program. I received a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

 

In an earlier post, I shared about how I used my son’s choice not to attend his senior prom as the perfect opportunity to create a special ‘mother and son night out’ and have an open conversation with him about underage drinking. While setting a comfortable atmosphere and tone is very important in making such conversations a success, parents who desire to talk to their teens don’t have to plan anything special to do it. In fact, any time is a good time to talk to your kids about the risks associated with underage drinking.

Being a mom of 4 kids myself, I know that getting the dialog started is not always an easy thing to do – especially if there’s a chance that underage drinking might be happening already, and you have questions as a parent.

That is one of the main reasons why the Family Talk About Drinking program is so beneficial. An underage drinking prevention program created by Anheuser-Busch in collaboration with certified parent coach MJ Corcoran more than 20 years ago, Family Talk is a valuable resource for parents to find information, tips, and helpful tools on talking to kids about alcohol and keeping the conversation going throughout adulthood. The program was newly renovated and expanded in 2011 to become a program that parents can turn to for questions or concerns they may have throughout the parenting process, no matter how old their kids may be.

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Recently I got the chance to join in on a special roundtable Q&A session with Family Talk About Drinking’s certified parent coach MJ Corcoran. During the session, she addressed concerns that parents have for their teens regarding underage drinking, as well as gave some wonderful tips and advice.

 

Here’s an overview of the roundtable session below.

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Q: I have a great relationship with my teen. We talk about drinking and they tell me what their friends are doing, how dumb underage drinking is, etc. However, being a mom I do worry about how I will react if I find out that they been drinking.  How would you recommend we handle such a situation if it comes about?  Obviously, I don’t want to over or under react to the situation.

MJ: Show that you trust your teen by setting clear boundaries so she knows what the rules are, and follow through with consequences that are related.

If you suspect your teen is drinking, it’s important not to attack her or make accusations. Address her in a neutral tone and setting – then, based on your house rules, decide on the proper consequences for her actions and ways of handling alcohol in the future. 

If she is are drinking, keep the lines of communication open. If our teens and young adults see that we are listening without an agenda, they’ll feel respected, which means they’re more likely to show us respect in return.

How To Talk To Your Teens About Drinking

Q: How does a parent handle exception laws if they live in a state that has them? It seems easy to give a child mixed signals. 

MJ: As a parent, one of the most important things you can do is to be consistent with your message to your children. 

States laws vary, but as parents committed to preventing underage drinking, the best practice is to be firm and stand your ground: “We don’t allow drinking in our home until you’re 21.” 

While the national legal drinking age is 21, it’s the parent’s responsibility to understand their local laws.

How To Talk To Your Teens About Drinking

Q: How can a parent’s anti-drinking message compete with the pressure from their peers to drink? (sort of a cool vs. anti-cool thing) 

MJ: Research from the Roper Youth Report shows that parents have been the greatest influence on teens’ decisions about drinking alcohol for 20 years. This year’s report also shows a 24 percent increase in parents’ influence since 1991. 

Sometimes teens see other teens or popular kids as risk takers. You can communicate to your teen that there are other, more positive ways to be risk takers, by climbing a mountain or running a marathon. 

Give your kids the opportunity to say no so that they can build that confidence “muscle.” Saying no takes practice, but the more confident they are in saying no, the easier it will be for them to say no to their friends or the “cool” kids. 

Having regular, consistent conversations with your children, throughout the different stages of their development, also helps you clearly communicate and reinforce your expectations about underage drinking and the consequences.

How To Talk To Your Teens About Drinking

Q: At what age should you begin speaking to your children about alcohol?

 MJ: It’s never too late or too early to start the conversation! The concept of the Family Talk About Drinking parenting stages is about learning to adjust our parenting styles to match our children’s cognitive development. 

Get connected with your kids as early as possible and look for windows of opportunities to have conversations about underage drinking. You can start the conversation with “I have lots of questions I’d like your opinion on” and then actively listen to their responses. 

In the Anheuser-Busch Family Talk About Drinking Parent Guide, we encourage parents to look for opportunities to have this conversation as early as possible.  Parents should set boundaries and look for age-appropriate ways to incorporate discussions about underage drinking in their everyday lives.  Some examples are provided in the Family Talk About Drinking guide, which parents can access www.FamilyTalkAboutDrinking.com.

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How To Talk To Your Teens About DrinkingQ: What advice do you have for parents who may be nervous or uncomfortable with discussing the dangers of underage drinking with their children?

 MJ: Remember that studies show that parents continue to be the number one influence on their teens’ decisions about drinking alcohol; so it’s an important conversation for parents have.

 The first step when talking to our teens about drinking doesn’t involve our teens at all. Instead, it’s about asking ourselves some tough questions: What do we really think about alcohol and underage drinking? What rules do we want to communicate?  Are we really trying to protect our kids from the world, or are we trying to give them the skills they need to make smart decisions?  

Before we can take the next step, we have to be honest with ourselves. In turn, being honest and open with your teen may enable them to return that transparency and trust. 

A successful conversation involves implementing an approach called the coaching model – a unique and powerful way for parents to connect with their kids and create the right atmosphere for deeper, more meaningful conversations about alcohol.

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Q: What resources are available for parents and teens/tweens on the topic of underage drinking?

 MJ: Family Talk About Drinking is a great resource! For more than 20 years, Anheuser-Busch has shared the Family Talk About Drinking program with parents to help provide them with tips on having an open dialog about alcohol with their children of all ages.

There are a number of tips within the program, including some overall approaches to having these important conversations with your teens. For example:

  • Show that you trust your teen by setting clear boundaries.
  • Affirm and encourage the good choices they’ve made up to this point.
  • Listen with an open mind.
  • Encourage smart decisions by helping your teenager think through possible scenarios that involve alcohol. 

Although the program has been around for more than 20 years, we recently launched a new website featuring a blog with tips on how to start this tough conversation. All of this information can be found on FamilyTalkAboutDrinking.com.

How To Talk To Your Teens About Drinking

Q: With teens, what is the best way to bring up the topic? 

MJ: Find windows of opportunity to talk to your teen. When you have a teenager, windows of opportunity to talk can open and close fast. Use prom and graduation to continue the conversation around underage drinking.

How To Talk To Your Teens About Drinking

Q: Is it ok to talk to older kids about drinking in front of their younger siblings?

 MJ: It depends on the age range between the younger and older sibling. The concept of parenting stages is about learning to adjust our parenting styles to match our children’s cognitive development. Parenting roles change as the kids get older, so you may address one kid as a coach (ages 14 – 21) but another one as a teacher (ages 1- 7).

How To Talk To Your Teens About Drinking

Q: As a parent, what can I do to prepare for a talk to make it more meaningful?

MJ: The conversation is about listening to your kids. When they feel heard, the conversation is more meaningful. Connect with your teen through listening and respecting their opinion. In turn, they’ll be much more likely to talk with you about the tough issues – like underage drinking. 

Prom and graduation season is a great time to have these conversations through asking open-ended questions to help your teen think through potential scenarios involving alcohol. For example:

  • “If there’s drinking at the party, what will you do?”
  • “What do you think about kids who drink?”
  • “If your friends wanted to drink, how would you handle it?”

How To Talk To Your Teens About Drinking

Q: I’m confident that my teen is making smart choices, but they have a friend who is not. How can we encourage our teen to help their friend vs. alienate their friend? 

MJ: You can explain to your teen that every parent has their own set of rules, and if their friend makes poor choices surrounding underage drinking, then it is up to that parent to set consequences. Ultimately, it’s up to the other teen’s parents to decide how to handle the situation. Encourage your teen to be a good example for his/her friends to follow.

How To Talk To Your Teens About Drinking

Q: My teen is graduating on Friday and his school is hosting an overnight party. Since it’s a school event, there will be no alcohol; however, parents are worried that some of the kids might try to sneak it in. What are some example responses we can give to our son so he and his friends are comfortable and confident saying no?

 MJ: Saying no takes practice, but the more confident they are in saying no, the easier it will be for them to say no to their friends or the “cool” kids. 

For some specific examples on how to say no, visit the Family Talk About Drinking blog on the website where there are examples like “10 Ways to Say No to Alcohol on Prom Night” to share with your teen.

How To Talk To Your Teens About Drinking

Q: How should I help coach my younger child about the dangers of underage drinking if I have an older child that thinks drinking is “cool”?

 MJ: A successful conversation involves implementing an approach called the coaching model – a unique and powerful way for parents to connect with their kids and create the right atmosphere for deeper, more meaningful conversations about alcohol. As we approach prom and graduation, the coaching stage focuses on how parents can help coach their teens through situations when they may encounter alcohol. As your child grows, so should your parenting style. Up to the age of 7, you are their teacher. From 1-13 you are a facilitator and from 14-21+ you are a coach. 

Having regular, consistent conversations with your children, throughout the different stages of their development, also helps you clearly communicate and reinforce your expectations about underage drinking and the consequences.

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How To Talk To Your Teens About Drinking

How To Talk To Your Teens About DrinkingFor more tips and information on how to talk to your teens about drinking, be sure to visit the #ABFamilyTalk website here. You can also join the Family Talk Facebook community, where you can also download a copy of the newly updated Family Talk About Drinking Parent Guide.

How To Talk To Your Teens About Drinking

Meet the Expert:

How To Talk To Your Teens About DrinkingMJ Corcoran has her Master’s in Education, specifically Early Childhood and Special Education with an emphasis on Parenting. With over 20 years experience woking with families in the public school system, her experience includes classroom teacher, parent educator and school administrator. Mary Jo was also a Regional and National Trainer for Parents As Teachers National Center in St. Louis. As a certified parent coach through the International Network for Children and Family, Mary Jo provides training to day care, preschool personnel and families all over the area.

Makeba Giles is a Digital Content Producer and Founder of Faith Health and Home, a digital space with information and resources for physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being to help families live an inspired lifestyle.

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